Birmingham learning how to smile again

THE feel-good factor has returned to Birmingham City.

A club which has seen more than their fair share of internal bickering and on-field mishaps are quietly asserting themselves in the Premier League, with this win stretching their unbeaten run to six matches, and elevating them to the lofty heights of eight, prompting manager Alex McLeish to joke about “feeling dizzy”.

But these are heady days for the Blues, both on and off the pitch, with their sudden burst of form coming on the back of Carson Yeung’s takeover of the club in early October.

The uncertainty and instability that dragged on behind the scenes regarding Yeung’s protracted will he-won’t-he acquisition has long since disappeared, and finally City are heading in the right direction.

Just ask Sebastian Larsson, who delivered a brace of free kicks with precision and venom at the DW stadium as Wigan were crushed by three goals in 11 second-half minutes.

“People got excited when the new owners came in, and rightly so, and around about that point we started picking up points and doing well,” remarked the 24-year-old midfielder. “The feel-good factor is back. Confidence is sky high and everyone is obviously buzzing.

“We have shown for ourselves we’re good enough for this league and we’re good enough to do well.

“Compared to a couple of seasons ago, in this kind of game we would have conceded a goal and maybe not been able to have come back from it.

“But this season, we’ve the belief we can.”

Wigan were comfortably in control at the break, leading by a peach of a strike from Charles N’Zogbia in the 33rd minute.

But the inconsistency that so infuriates manager Roberto Martinez returned to haunt them again as they allowed City to walk all over them in the second half, with a second of the season from Christian Benitez sandwiching the free-kicks from Larsson.

“We’ve got the belief at the moment that we can turn things around and we put in a much better performance in the second half,” the Swede added.

Although only five points behind their fifth-placed midlands rivals Aston Villa, Larsson maintains everyone within the squad is simply focused on one aim right now – safety.

“The main thing is to stay up,” added Larsson. “We’ve not even played half of the season but we’ve had a great start and now we want to push on to make sure we’re safe as soon as possible.

“Once we are safe, then we can worry about other stuff. Right now we want to pick up the points and see how far it will take us. If we do well, then the table will take care of itself.”

After two full years in charge, McLeish feels there is greater cohesion within the squad and that is paying rich dividends.

“We’ve got a settled team, we’ve had consistency in selection and the players are really getting to know each other well, and their understanding with one another is improving,” he said.

“Take ‘Chucho’ (Benitez) and Cameron (Jerome). After an ineffective first half, they were much better in the second.

“The fact ‘Chucho’ doesn’t have to head back across the Atlantic any more means we’ve been able to integrate him much better into the whole scene.

“The dynamics of the team are very good and you can see the results, which are very fruitful.”

City have now won their last three on the trot, something Martinez can only dream of, with his side unable to string two wins together all season.

Despite a late free-kick from Jordi Gomez, the performance further underlined Martinez’s desire to strengthen in the January transfer window to stave off a potential survival battle.

“When you see the two faces of our play, that is something I cannot accept,” reflected Martinez.

“When you don’t have that character, that know-how, it shows we need to increase the numbers and improve the squad.”

REFEREE: Lee Probert (Wiltshire) 7: Kept things flowing nicely, despite some unpleasant conditions.

MATCH RATING: **** Much better than might have been expected. Birmingham are proving one of the season’s surprise packages.


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